Bank on virtualization for bottom-line relief

Tap into server virtualization to free up funds for strategic endeavors

Companies not making a virtualization play in 2007 stand to spend far too much maintaining their datacenters. The ongoing energy squeeze has many enterprises already making the switch to virtualization — and for good reason, as innovation in the CPU industry and recent maturation of competing technologies are proving that server virtualization leads to significant energy-consumption relief.

The cost of replenishing hardware provides a second motivating factor, especially as many enterprises enter the buy phase of their server upgrade cycle this year. “At a meat-and-potatoes level, IT shops can cut hardware costs by a quarter or a half by turning to server virtualization,” says Frank Gens, an analyst at IDC, which predicts that the number of new physical server deployments dedicated to virtual hosts will increase by 52 percent this year.

For those on board, 2007 has arrived riding a massive wave of virtualization technologies. So much so that x86-based server virtualization will not just be an option for tomorrow’s datacenter, it will be the foundation. Soon, vendors will focus on higher-power, higher-cost servers bundled with platforms such as VMware, Virtual Iron, and Virtuozzo, which will eventually outpace servers bundled with raw OSes. Lower-end servers will remain an option but will decline in favor of medium- and heavy-duty platforms. Expect eight-way servers to experience a rebirth after foundering in recent years due to high cost and software vendors’ attention on clustering. Spreading the price of an eight-way server among dozens of virtual machines will fit the budget far better.

In terms of licensing, VMware leads the pack in price per socket, but competition may force that price down in 2007. Be sure to keep an eye on this market as it evolves. Additional savings can be had by timing an iterative migration path to take advantage of this dynamic market.

What’s worth noting is that everyone stands to gain from virtualization, not just the big boys. High-power, relatively low-cost servers such as the Sun Galaxy x4200, the Dell PowerEdge 2950, and the HP ProLiant DL380 G5 make the case for investing in virtualization, regardless of the size of implementation. And there are plenty of free products available to taste what’s possible, although they lack enterprise features such as high availability and dynamic load shifting. VMware Server can be downloaded for free, as can a limited version of Virtual Iron. In fact, Virtual Iron has dropped the price of its enterprise product to $499 per socket, driving the barrier to entry even lower. Although these free offerings probably won’t offer the features you’ll need for a production deployment, they certainly prove the point — the time is ripe for datacenter consolidation.

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